Richard Pierce

Life, Writing

Day 71

I can already say that Humankind by Rutger Bregman is a brilliant book, and I’m very grateful to have been gifted it. Of course, I can’t say until the very end whether or not I agree with his conclusions, but it’s already got potential to be a life-changing book for me. And for someone who sometimes wishes they’d studied History at university rather than languages, Bregman’s reaching back to Neanderthal times is endlessly fascinating and revealing, because there is still so much to learn. Parts of that exploration take me back to being a little kid at school in Germany. Most importantly, and I think this will apply regardless of of Bregman’s conclusions will be, regardless of whether or not I agree with his conclusions, this book is doing what all history does – it contextualises us, me, the Ukraine war, all wars. I know I write about this a lot, but putting our lives into context is really important, actually essential for living. And not just that – we often forget that we are history, that what we do, however unimportant it might seem at the time, is creating a context for future generations, creating the shape of a world for the future. That’s why we should be concerned with what we’re doing to the planet and to our fellow humans.

Last night I scribbled a note to myself that I was seriously becoming too obsessed with Aggie. She tends to wander through my head at the most inconvenient times, and I found myself jotting down some dialogue last night, which isn’t really allowed under the rules I’ve set myself for these 500+ word bursts of her story every morning. And The Mortality Code needs to be written, because that’s the “serious” piece of work in hand right now. But the weird thing is that the characters from these two separate books are actually alive side by side in my head, in two separate parts of my brain, and not affecting or interacting with each other. I’ve never quite experienced anything like that. They may be competing with each other for time, but that’s different. Maybe I should start writing a third novel to see how that works out up there. Perhaps not.

When I first started writing prose fiction, I really struggled with dialogue, and so much of it read like a stilted and sluggish version of real life (well, not even real life, it was so far away from how people really talk), and reading it back to myself always felt really discouraging, especially as I didn’t know what to do about it. One of the problems possible was, in those early days, that I thought I shouldn’t be reading books in case I accidentally copied them, their style, their content. Madly enough, I only realised about 15 years ago that this was a ridiculous approach to take. It’s only by listening to other people’s voices that we find our own. I also have to admit that my dialogue now, with as few speech tags (he said, she said) as possible tends to divide my audience. I’ve had compliments about all the white space on my dialogue from at least as many people as from those who’ve said that those pages aren’t novel pages but pages from a screenplay. A divided audience isn’t a bad thing. For me, ultimately, my characters drive their stories through their dialogue. And it’s not fanciful, I think, to say that actually when you read what I write, you’re reading the voices of my characters, and not my voice at all.




‘They will find us soon enough,’ he says.

‘I’m surprised you’ve not used that walkie-talkie of yours yet. And they’ll be tracking your phone anyway.’

‘Aren’t you bothered?’

‘Should I be?’

‘We need to know where Valentine is. WE thought he might be on the train with you. He used his card in Norwich just before you got on the train.’

She laughs. ‘Housekeeping card.’


She digs into her pocket, pulls out the card. ‘He gave it to me last night before he left.’


‘Is that all you can say? You think you know everything, but you know nothing.’

‘So he was on the train, and you’re just a distraction?’

She shakes her head. ‘I told you. He left last night.’

‘So where is he?’

‘So much for surveillance,’ she says.

‘We didn’t have him under surveillance then.’

‘Why not?’

He sighs. ‘Because we didn’t know until after you say he’d gone that he was of interest to us.’

‘How did you find out?’

‘We intercepted a communication.’

‘From the Kremlin?’

He nods.

‘And nothing before then?’


‘How strange.’

‘You must have known there was something odd about him.’

‘Why would I know.’

‘You share his house, for God’s sake.’

‘You still have this ridiculous idea that I’m more than a maid.’

‘Maids don’t fight like you.’

‘Maybe. But that doesn’t make me something I’m not.’

‘Any thing strange ever happen in the house.’

The rustling of plastic sheets. ‘Not really,’ she says. ‘Lots of visitors. Not so many lately.’ She looks at him, past him, behind them at the platform exit. ‘And they both spent all their time together. Valentine and Cassandra as you insist on calling them.’

‘And his voice?’

‘Surely you know.’

‘He’s a mystery, except for this one communication we got hold of last night.’

‘I always thought he was English. The most cut glass accent ever.’

‘What about the guests?’

‘Just as English and upper class as him. And her.’

‘Where is she?’

Aggie shrugs again. Don’t let him… ‘No idea. She wasn’t with him last night. He said they’d be gone for a long time. He took some stuff. In a suitcase.’

‘You think he came back to London last night?’

‘I assumed so.’

‘Do you always assume?’

‘I don’t get paid to think. I get paid to do.’

‘To do what exactly?’

‘Is this whole sex thing an obsession with you? Master, mistress, and servant? That sort of stuff? French maids outfits and stockings?’

‘No. No.’

‘Then stop insinuating it.’

‘You know big words for a Polish girl.’

‘Woman, actually. And being from abroad doesn’t mean I can’t speak English correctly. I’d like to hear you speak Polish.’

‘Russian’s more my forte, actually.’

‘With that soft English palate? Of course.’ She gets up, brushes down her coat. ‘Have you ever thought the communication…’ She mimes inverted commas. ‘… was as much of set-up as your pretend assassination of me?’

He gets up, and this time he doesn’t pull back, and grabs her left arm. ‘Tell me what you know, God dammit.’

Red fracture lines behind her eyes. A man, somewhere somewhen, grabbing her, trying to make her do what he wanted, what she didn’t want, and his head slanting the wrong way when her muscle memory went at him too hard. The film flickers. She doesn’t know if that was before or after the snow, or in the snow, blood on her hands on her belly, the collapse, the rescue, the resurrection, the bed, the wood-panelled room, the training ground, the green eyes unblinking superfluous to requirements he should have known better badly trained, a flash in a second. She doesn’t react to the pressure of Zav’s hand, breathes deeply. ‘Time to go.’

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  1. Ren Powell

    12th March 2022 at 19:35

    I envy you your talent for storytelling!

    1. Richard Pierce

      12th March 2022 at 21:13

      You flatter me. I’m still waiting to see where it goes 🙂

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